Read Part One here.
I have a confession: I’ve never written a memoir, even though I've mapped out my entire memoir, several times in several different ways. Despite my lack of progress, I know I will write one and I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about how to fashion it. Here are the strategies I'll employ when I finally sit down to write the story of my life!
A lot of nonfiction writing requires writing with an audience in mind. Memoir doesn't have this requirement, though, because a memoir is, first and foremost, for YOU. Take it from someone who's been there: If you sit down to write with a "purpose" or a lesson you need to impart or even a specific audience in mind, you may feel so much pressure that you won't be able to write anything.
Here's where journaling comes in. Journaling is typically private; likely, no one else is going to read what you write. Thus, we are able to be much freer in our thoughts and much more authentic. Without fear of recrimination, we can dig deep; bemoan; berate ourselves and others; wax poetic; share secrets; confess our undying love (or confess that our love has died!).
The practice of journaling, then, will help you to write without moralizing. And if you're writing without moralizing then you're probably writing a lot more than you would have otherwise. Big. Win. Let the marketing team figure out your ideal client; your true audience will be drawn to the subject you're writing about without you being heavy-handed.
Of course, your story has a moral. I would never try to convince you otherwise. All stories have morals! All lives have meaning. All memoirs have lessons. All people have wisdom to impart. But ironically, to get the story on paper, you may have to pretend that you don't know what the moral is. Feign ignorance and just write. The upside is that you'll be as impressed by the final manifesto as all of the rest of us are!
I'm living proof that a memoir is not going to write itself. If that could happen, my book would have been written long ago! I believe a certain amount of procrastination is healthy and even productive--after all, my house wouldn't be clean if I didn't procrastinate writing so much. Still, at the end of the day, if we don't put words on paper, nothing will get written.
Or, should I say at the beginning of the day? Many working writers I've met believe in "morning pages"--where you get up, get your coffee, and write before anything else happens. If you're a morning person, I bet you'll like doing that too. The morning isn't that much more magical than any other time of day, but writing before the world intrudes IS magical, and smart, and way easier.
If you don't believe in schedules, then inspiration is your muse. Pay attention and carry a journal because as soon as you start paying attention, really observing and listening and remembering, then you're going to have a lot to write down! Though smaller journals are easy to carry around, I'm a sucker for a nice, clean ruled legal pad. (Note: transfer anything you definitely want to keep to computer fairly quickly, even if it's just scanning your handwritten pages.)
All of us have those days when we want to write, but we just don't want to write. Here are some prompts that have gotten me through some major writer's block moments:
The best part about memoir writing? You don’t need to be an expert in anything other than your own life. Writing, whether for publication or for your own enjoyment, is a beautiful way to get to know yourself. Release yourself of the pressure to be perfect and you’ll find pleasure in chronicling your legacy with authenticity and honesty.
Happy Writing (and procrastinating)!
P.S. I spend most of my time “not writing” as an editor and would love to read anything you send my way. Email me anytime firstname.lastname@example.org
Lee Lee Thompson is the #ladyboss ofThe Perpetual You—a lifestyle brand for women living intentionally. An editor by trade, designer by heart, and mother by choice, she seeks intentional practices and a mindful mindset. Connect with her through Facebook, Instagram, or email. If ever you’re near Hamden, Connecticut, she welcomes you to stop by her front porch.
Portrait of the author by Joanna Fisher.
A love of reading is often discovered at a young age and is a tremendous asset for anyone; readers have an entire world available to them that non-readers don’t benefit from. They can learn skills, entertain themselves, glean wisdom from history, and find inspiration for self-improvement using nothing but a (free!) public library. Yet sometimes, though children can read, they see it more as required work than a privilege and miss out on the joy that the habit can bring.